In this age of easily accessible data, it was only a matter of time until fraudsters started targeting law firms.
While the actions of impostors seriously damages the reputation of legitimate firms, the consequences are far worse for their deceived clients. People are increasingly encouraged to enter credit or debit card details onto imitation websites and then defrauded of thousands of pounds.
The director of financial compliance at the Law Society Ian Messer urged both solicitors and members of the public to be vigilant. He said:
“It seems that this kind of fraud is on the rise and we would urge both solicitors and members of the public to be aware.
“We would advise anyone who is looking for a solicitor to look at the ‘Find a Solicitor’ section of our website to check their credentials.
“The information is updated in real time, and only solicitors who are currently entitled to practice are listed. While it’s highly unlikely that there is a problem, it is worth being cautious and double checking that your chosen solicitor is legitimate.”
The Law Society’s ‘Find a Solicitor’ function is a fantastic tool but it fails to account for some of the more brazen fraudsters who replicate law firms at a different address. That is why we recommend augmenting your Law Society search with a number of other additional checks.
Choosing a law firm can seem like a daunting prospect at the best of times. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of firms in every city and most will proclaim themselves the best in their field.
However, with a little investigatory work, you should be able to sort the wheat from the chaff and find a lawyer suitable for your circumstances.
The easiest and most effective way of finding a good law firm is simply asking your friends, family and co-workers for recommendations. If you know someone who has personally worked with a lawyer, they will be able to accurately appraise their competency and behaviour.
However, not everyone knows someone who knows a lawyer. In these cases, we recommend asking each firm for references or testimonials and checking online reviews. If something doesn’t seem right, feel free to ask for an explanation.
Visit Their Office
This is the most simple and effective way of filtering out fraudulent firms. A fake law firm is never going to go through the rigmarole of renting an office and equipping it to look like a functioning place of work.
Arrange a meeting in person and see their set up with your own eyes. This will also allow you to get to know the person who is offering to represent you in court
Don’t Overvalue Search Engines
If a law firm is at the first result on a Google search, that doesn’t mean it’s the best law firm out there. Getting to the top of Google is usually only a measure of your advertising budget, not your talent.
Hourly Rate or Value Model
A decade ago, most lawyers may well have opted to bill their clients at an hourly rate. However, in recent years it has become far more popular to charge a fixed fee at the start of the case. This is called the value model and the total charge depends on the value of service to the client.
Ask each firm how they arrange their billing and why they chose to do it in such a way.
Legal Aid is a governmental body that helps people get legal advice and representation. To qualify for Legal Aid you must pass two tests: one financially based and the other based on the nature of your case.
If you have been offered Legal Aid, or you plan on using it, remember to ask prospective law firms whether they take on Legal Aid cases.